Whether it's Streisand tackling lieder, Sting playing a lute or McCartney's
oratorio, pop-classical crossovers are always grim. Philip Hensher on
five decades of disasters
The Guardian, London
Thursday October 26, 2006
Speaking before the September premiere of his new commission,
Gaddafi: A Living Myth, English National Opera artistic director
John Berry averred that it could "redefine opera".
The piece, written by members of Asian Dub Foundation, was billed
in advance as a venture of extraordinary audacity, addressing
contemporary politics in music that would set our old friend the
Classical Music Establishment by its ears.
Some of us had doubts long before the premiere. In December 2005,
writing in this paper about the state of affairs at English
National Opera, I said: "A commissioned opera from Asian Dub
Foundation has had to be put off - and it's not hard to guess
When it was finally unveiled, there was not much pleasure to be
had from seeing this gloomy prognostication confirmed.
The critics did their worst: "Cliche and bombast ... "repetitive
and incoherent ... laughably wooden" ... "as cynical as Simon
Cowell" ... "embarrassingly redolent of sixth-form earnestness"
... "long stretches of jaw-dropping banality" ... "risible moments
that look and sound like a Middle Eastern version of Springtime
For Hitler". Worst of all, almost every review used the word
"brave". Everyone involved, you might have thought, ought to
know better. The history of rock musicians' attempts to place
themselves in front of orchestras - and to write what can
sometimes, risibly, be referred to as "classical music" - is a
truly grisly one. ....
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